Motherhood in the Age of Instagram
Our little Evie Grace recently turned six months old. (Where have six months gone?!) We celebrated with lobster rolls and a long walk in the park, and a trip to Ample Hills for ice cream. Evie kept us company with her smiles and babbles, and eventually fell fast asleep in her stroller, her chunky little legs draped over the side. Just watching her sleep, my heart feels as though it’s going to burst. I never thought I could be capable of loving so fiercely and so deeply. It actually aches to love someone this much.
If you follow this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t written in awhile. For three months, actually. Yes, caring for a baby takes up a good amount of my time, and with Brandon’s illness, it’s been extra-challenging. I’ve also been working on a new project that I can’t yet share details on. But there’s more to the story.
After six months of near-constant sadness and anxiety – to the point I feared that something within me had permanently broken – I’m finally seeing a light at the end of a dark tunnel. I don’t have a label for what I’ve been dealing with (though I suspect it’s some degree of postpartum depression and/or anxiety), but what I do know is that it felt like the Anna I’ve known for 36 years was hijacked and replaced by someone very, very fragile.
For a long time, it was hard for me to admit that anything was wrong because it felt embarrassing to acknowledge that I was struggling, and that motherhood was anything less than blissful. But as I slowly start to feel like myself again, I want to share a bit of my journey and hopefully to encourage any of you who have found yourself in a similar dark spot.
You wouldn’t know this by following me on social media (only the inspiring moments make it onto Instagram!), or even by having a casual conversation with me, but this year, so far, has been the hardest of my life. Until very recently, heartache lurked beneath every smile, and tears threatened to (and did) spill over almost daily. I felt a near-constant sense of overwhelm that at times made it difficult to breathe. Anxious thoughts and to-do lists buzzed through my head constantly, and simple tasks – doing the dishes, cleaning the apartment, writing an email – felt monumental. Cooking – when it happened – was incredibly simple, but there were many nights spent eating takeout on the couch because the thought of cleaning up afterward was simply too much.
Mostly, I’ve felt exhausted. Not just an “I didn’t sleep well last night” sort of tired, but a foggy-brained, “I can’t form coherent thoughts or perform basic motor skills” sort of exhaustion. It’s a fatigue that feels absolutely soul crushing. I’ve been able to take care of Evie, and sometimes myself, but blogging and other creative projects have definitely been placed on the back burner as I tried to sort through this altered reality.
In the midst of the darkness, there were still good days (and thankfully, there are more and more of them lately). Sometimes I’d wake up and feel full of energy and inspiration, and feel hopeful that the fog had lifted. On these days, I’d go on long walks, see friends, and try to stay active. I’d cherish the moments with Evie, and feel extra blessed that she is mine. I’d think to myself that maybe I dreamed up the darkness…that the exhaustion and anxiety were just normal new mom blues. And then, out of nowhere, a wave of sadness would crash over me, and I’d feel like I was drowning again.
I’ve not known how to talk about this – much less write about it – because it feels so shameful to me. Motherhood is supposed to be such a joyful experience; why have I felt so sad – and overwhelmed – for much of this year? Sure, being a new mom is incredibly challenging – the sleepless nights, the physical trials of labor and breastfeeding, huge hormonal shifts, and the new reality of total selflessness – but we all know that the rewards far outweigh the costs. For me, the experience of being wildly grateful and full of love, yet feeling so deeply broken, has been insanely disorienting. I’m a person who is, by nature, incredibly optimistic. My default setting is one of joy. I’m normally very productive, and certainly don’t shy away from challenges (you know, like self-publishing a cookbook!). And yet, I feel like I’ve spent the past six months in survival mode. I look around at other moms – especially the ones with multiple kids – and ask myself, “How does everyone else seem to have it so together?”
During this time, I’ve allowed perfectionism to creep back into my life. I’ve struggled with this for years (and blogged about it many times), but never has it been more unrelenting than now. Somehow I thought that by six (maaaybe eight) weeks postpartum I’d be back to work (writing, styling, recipe-developing, and blogging) while simultaneously caring for Evie, maintaining a spotless apartment and cooking daily healthy meals. And, you know, throwing dinner parties. (HA!) Of course, this didn’t happen, but instead of having grace for myself, I’ve spent a good amount of time telling myself what a failure I am.
Perhaps my expectations were a tad bit unrealistic, but honestly, seeing the lives of other moms on social media, with their perfectly styled homes and their beautifully-groomed children, would certainly lead you to believe that this is the norm. There seems to be a very high pressure to make motherhood look breezily simple – free of messes, pain, and tears. I see new moms blogging and Snap-chatting from the hospital room, with photo-ready hair and make-up, holding their little bundles and gushing about their beautiful labors. (Say what?!)
I’m so happy that there are women who thrive during the very pivotal life experiences of birth and motherhood, but what about those of us who struggle?
Who’s there to tell us it’s OK?
The comparison game is deadly, and I know better than to engage in it. And yet, at 3 a.m., when I’m up feeding Evie, I scroll through Instagram, staring at the glowing screen with its stream of smiling faces and perfectly edited lives, and feel deeply flawed.
Brandon finally asked me one day if maybe I was dealing with postpartum depression and/or anxiety. I hadn’t really thought of that, preferring to blame myself, or worse, him. I took several online evaluation tests and answered a wholehearted YES to just about every symptom. I haven’t been at the point where I’ve considered harming Evie or myself (though that’s a very real symptom many women deal with), but it gave me some comfort to know that perhaps there was a hormonal reason behind the tsunami of emotions I’ve experienced. And that there is hope of recovery.
This year has been challenging for sure, but I’m not about to give up. I’m determined to get healthy for myself, for Evie, and for Brandon. I’ve started exercising again, which makes a huge difference in how I feel both physically and emotionally. I’ve realized that negative thought cycles are deadly and that I have the power to break them. And I’ve realized that taking care of myself needn’t be a luxury – it’s a necessity. I’m ready to move past this, so I can start cooking and blogging again. I’ve missed you all.
Friends, this was maybe the hardest post I’ve ever written, and I sincerely hope it didn’t come across in any way as ungrateful or complaining. I love Evie more than life itself, and I thank God every single day for the gift of this precious baby girl. I’m certainly not looking for sympathy, but rather to tell anyone who is struggling as a new mom – whether with postpartum hormones, or exhaustion, or that very real sense of overwhelm – that you’re not alone. The phase you’re in is temporary, even though it feels like forever. Things will get better and you will get your old self back. Please, if you think you have any of the signs of PPD or PPA, seek help. This can be a crippling disorder, but it’s very treatable – there’s no reason to suffer in silence.
Mostly, can we all just agree to be real with each other? Not to pretend things are perfect when they aren’t? Social media can be so damaging during these vulnerable days of being a new mom. It turns motherhood into some sort of superwoman competition, when raising children actually takes a village. There is no way I would have survived these past few months without the support of B, my sweet mom, and dear friends with whom I could bare my soul without fear of judgment. It’s funny how life seems to keep teaching me the same lessons over and over: That perfectionism is deadly. That grace is essential. And that admitting to my brokenness is far braver than putting on a strong front.
If any of you have experienced postpartum struggles, please share!! I would LOVE to hear your stories, and hear how you got better. Also, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on social media and the comparison game. Is that something you struggle with? Do tell!